By Lisa M. Keefe
A group representing family farmers and ranchers filed a complaint with USDA’s Office of Inspector General alleging the Oklahoma Beef Council illegally joined the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association in campaigning for a state referendum that would require payment of a state fee of $1 for every head of cattle sold.
This would be in violation of federal restrictions on use of Beef Council funds to promote or influence government or policy, according to a release from the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM).
The complaint states that, “The Council and the national Beef Checkoff’s funds and trademarked logo, mark and symbol are illegally being used to promote and influence government policy and action by supporting and promoting a “yes” vote on the referendum. […] Federal law explicitly bans the Beef Council from influencing governmental action or policy. Supporting and promoting an increase in fees by the Beef Council is clearly a violation of this explicit prohibition,” OCM said.
OCM also noted that the Oklahoma organization suffered the embezzlement of $2.6 million over a 10-year period by one of its own employees.
“From their gross negligence of accountability for federal tax dollars and the accountability they owe to every Oklahoma family farmer and rancher who is mandated to pay these fees, it is absolutely clear the Council does not have the accounting procedures in place or the sophistication and expertise to provide an accurate accounting of the funds they are currently entrusted,” OCM said.
The complaint asks that the OIG instruct the council to “cease and desist all activities and expenditures associated with this state referendum and any efforts to assess Oklahoma cattle producers a $1 fee on all cattle sold in Oklahoma” and that the council “be held accountable for any expenditures they have made and for any costs they have incurred in the promotion of the state referendum.”
Oklahoma Council’s response
Oklahoma Beef Council Executive Director Heather Buckmaster sent this statement to Meatingplace via email:
“The Oklahoma Beef Council (OBC) is led by a voluntary board of beef and dairy producers, so we understand and appreciate the concerns recently expressed by some producers … The beef producers of this state put their trust in OBC, and we take this trust extremely seriously. We have already taken steps to ensure the integrity of the Beef Checkoff in Oklahoma and a greater level of accountability generally. … Finally, to be clear, the Oklahoma Beef Council is not involved nor has it funded the ‘Vote Yes’ beef checkoff referendum process in Oklahoma led by a coalition of Oklahoma beef and agriculture organizations.”
The statement also noted the steps the council is taking to recover from its former employee’s fraud.